July 16, 2020
Neri Oxman: Material Ecology contains seven key projects from the American-Israeli’s Mediated Matter Group research department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Organised by Museum of Modern Art senior curator Paola Antonelli and curatorial assistant Anna Burckhardt, the exhibition marks the first time Oxman’s work is shown as a collection.
“The significance of this exhibit for me and for my team is enormous,” Oxman told Dezeen.
“Our work has developed for almost 20 years, from scientific inquiry to design exploration and vice versa,” she added. “We have learned a ton.”
Oxman came up with the name, Material Ecology, as a framework for understanding her work – which combines engineering, art, science and technology to explore new materialities.
“It is the definition of ecology – the branch in biology that deals with the relations between organisms and their physical surroundings – applied to all things man-made or human-designed,” she said.
“Biology is far more refined and sophisticated than material practices involved in polymers, concrete, steel and glass. But what if we could change that by creating new technologies that can vary the physical properties of matter at a resolution and sophistication that approaches that of the natural world?”
Oxman said the creations, which are displayed at the MoMA exhibit alongside artefacts that demonstrate the research processes behind them, have made significant strides in the field of architecture.
“We have successfully built a body of work that enabled us to challenge the status quo of architectural design, questioning first principles associated with materials, structures, ecology and our evolving relationship with the natural environment overall,” she said.
Oxman added that the exhibit comes as the team begins to shift focus from experimental projects to real-life scenarios.
“We are finally ready to tackle the next phase of our work which involves the translation and transformation of our research into real-world contexts and applications,” she added.
Among the works on display is a 9.5-meter tall Silk Pavilion II. Custom-made for the show, the design is the second version of the Silk Pavilion Oxman created in 2013, and uses a new jig machine that rotates the structure every so often so silkworms keep moving across the pavilion to lay silk more evenly.
It is a hollow, stainless steel frame with knitting across it. On top of this, 17,000 silkworms have laid their silk to completely cover the structure inside and out.
According to Oxman, the research is important because it shows how traditional production of the material can be made more sustainable in the future.
“The silk pavilions demonstrate that we can produce silk goods, with relatively high levels of control over fibre-distribution, without boiling larvae alive in their cocoons,” she said.
“This is significant, and we hope that this may inspire more sustainable sericulture practices in the future associated not only with silkworms but other organisms whose ‘goods’ are being exploited by humans, such as bees and their honey.”